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The World Youth Day is NOT for the Weak

Updated: May 28

by Clyde Ericson Nolasco

Another World Youth Day (WYD) gathering ended and many are excited for the next one.

I received an early birthday gift as I fly to Portugal and take part in this year’s WYD. I was Dominus Est’ official delegate and faith journalist to cover WYD. Also, thanks to our generous sponsor, I was the lone Filipino representing Dominus Est to take part in the first ever Catholic Influencers Festival.

As of writing, I am still recuperating from the long walks, a minor injury, extreme weather and jet lag. And with all these, I can say that WYD is NOT for the weak. BUT it was a life-giving and awe-inspiring journey away from home.

Lisbon, Portugal

The WYD is considered the biggest Catholic gathering happening every three years. However, this year was an exception as it was originally slated in 2022 but was moved due to the pandemic.

All roads lead to Lisbon, Portugal. From August 1 to 6, the quiet city was filled with cheering voices and happy singing of the pilgrims. Lisbon was the place to encounter Jesus through the local pilgrims and those who are coming from the different parts of the world, the Sacraments and through His Holiness Pope Francis.

In an earlier report, the local organizers mentioned that there were 354,000 confirmed pilgrims and hoped to reach at least a million. The confirmed number was small compared to the past WYDs and they cited three reasons: (1) we are still recovering from the pandemic, (2) the high cost of expenses to travel (3) and with many distractions around, young people are focused on other things.

But like in the miracle of the multiplication of bread, the overnight vigil brought 1.5 million people together celebrating the Eucharist with the Pope. It was a sight to behold. Moreso, according to Jorge Messias of the WYD logistics department, “It is the WYD with the most nationalities in its history.” It was said that every nation was represented except for one, which is Maldives.

“Rise Up”

The theme for this year’s WYD was “Mary arose and went with haste!”

In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that Mary, upon learning that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant in spite of her old age, stood up and went to Elizabeth. Mary’s action was a sign of willingness to serve and obedience to the Holy Spirit without any hesitation. This event in the life of Mary was the inspiration of all that’s done in WYD inviting the pilgrims to act and take part in social transformation.

The theme was echoed through the different activities during the WYD week: the celebration of the Sacraments, art and music festivals and the Rise Up Meetings.

The Rise Up Meetings were not the usual catechism or conference. In the spirit of synodality, the Rise Up Meetings were designed as avenues for encounters between the young people and the Church through the bishop present.

After my Amazing Race-ish experience, I was able to arrive at where our very own Bp. Rex Alarcon would be facilitating a Rise Up Meeting. After a testimonial and small group sharing, the floor was opened for questions. It served as a dialogue between the young people and the Church in the person of Bp. Rex. In another instance, after an hour of bus ride, I was able to attend Cardinal Tagle’s meeting. He joined the pilgrims in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and later on presided over the Holy Eucharist at Charneca Park under the Portuguese sun.

Pope: “Do not be afraid!”

Pope Francis himself was not spared from the busy schedule of the WYD week. Along with his schedule with the pilgrims, His Holiness also met the local officials, visited the students of a Catholic university and had an exclusive gathering for WYD volunteers. He also had his pilgrimage to Fatima to visit our Dear Lady.

The Pope joined the pilgrims for the welcoming ceremony, the Stations of the Cross, Youth Vigil and the Missioning Mass. And in most instances, the Pope would remind us with the words, “Do not be afraid!”

Pope Francis during the welcoming ceremony at Colina de Econtro said, “Don’t be afraid, take heart, move forward, knowing that all of us are “mortgaged” by the love God has for us. God loves us. Let us say it all together: God loves us.” Words to console us as we start the WYD week in reflection and celebration.

Moreso, his words during the Missioning mass, the concluding activity encouraged us to bring Jesus as we go home: “Dear young people, I would like to look each of you in the eye and say: ‘Do not be afraid!’ Now I will tell you something even more beautiful: Jesus himself is now looking at you. He knows what is in your heart; he smiles at you and tells you once again that he loves you, always and infinitely.”

In spite of physical limitations due to his medical condition, wheelchair-bound Pope Francis cherished and enjoyed every moment he was with the pilgrims. He even surprised some pilgrims when he himself went to Ciudad de Alegria to hear their confessions. I also went to receive the Sacrament but I was days early. I am pretty sure I will get starstrucked if it’s the Pope to whom I will receive penance and absolution from.

Solo Pilgrim

As I was not part of any delegation but covering WYD for Dominus Est, I registered, flew and joined WYD Lisbon solo.

It was an adventure. And when I say an adventure, it was an experience mixed with triumphs and mishaps. Though I missed a station or two, using the metro was not a bother at all. Food was not a problem as well as I was willing to try what’s available like trying falafel and enjoying pastel de nata.

Being away and solo for a “mission” in a place 12,000 km away from home was not an easy feat. I arrived two days before WYD proper. Without an internet connection and using the maps I printed back home, I walked for kilometers with a parched throat to find the apartment where I would be staying and the check-in venue for my WYD kit. I got lost in the middle of the night. My first day was not how I wanted to experience Lisbon.

Things turned out differently when I started meeting pilgrims and volunteers. Days became more interesting when I met Pinoys, especially those whom I know.

I was delighted to meet Pinoy pilgrims. I was reunited with Kat Beral (left photo) of the ACY Manila. She was a groupmate during WYD Madrid 2011, she now lead the Manila delegates along with Fr. Jade Licuanan, Fr. Marthy Marcelo and Fr Patrick Calimlim. During the in-service-training season of teachers, I was going around to facilitate seminars. In Lisbon, there were pilgrims who approached me telling me they had attended one of my seminars. Wow! They are teachers (right photo) from Mount Carmel School of Infanta, Quezon.

I was happy to see Karlista priests while in Lisbon. I met Fr. Ryan Aguinaldo and Fr. Dean Jerome Cruz both from the Diocese of Cabanatuan during the gathering of Pinoys at the Igreja da Madalena.

Dominus Est is in Lisbon! Dominus Est host and columnist Fr. Kevin Joshua Cosme and I were able to do a little catch up while in Lisbon. He was with the ECY group representing his diocese Paranaque.

Along the way, we have gained new friends especially with those who are coming from other countries. Marian (left photo) a law student from Mexico was very helpful. She didn't even hesitate to join our live coverage for an interview. Fr. Tomasz (right photo) is a Vincentian priest from Poland. We spent an afternoon together for lunch. Fr. Tomasz was curious about "pagmamano" and I was very generous to introduce and demonstrate it to him.

Thanks to my vigil buddies, I was able to survive the overnight at Campo de Graca. Filip and Beatriz (left photo) are young engineers from Lisbon who volunteered for WYD. They are also active in their local parish as youth leaders. Franz and Beatrice (right photo) are such a holy and lovely young couple. They proclaim the Gospel through their community and platform Immanuel Vision.

I concluded my Lisbon trip visiting Our Lady. On the bus to Fatima, I met Sebastian (left) who is from Switzerland and Jon (right) from Boston. We attended the international mass and had lunch together. It was the best way to end my adventure -- to listen to their faith-filled WYD experiences.

I came alone but meeting all these lovely people, my cup runneth over.

WYD Seoul 2027 Upon the announcement that Seoul, Korea will be hosting the WYD in 2027 (it was again not going to happen in three years to give way for the Jubilee Year in 2025), many expressed their desire to join the next. A lot are excited as it is happening again in Asia after three decades since WYD Manila in 1995.

Before we all fly to SoKor, there are points we must consider. I am no WYD veteran as I have only been to two (Madrid 2011 and Lisbon 2023) but it pays to be prepared.

More than the costly travel expenses and the rigorous Visa application, here are some points to be mindful about:

  1. Be physically fit. For my 10-day stay in Lisbon, I accumulated 216,217 steps. My daily walk and exercise of 5 km here in Manila was no match to the hilly Portugal. I can remember seeing pilgrims passing out on the trains and on the streets due to exhaustion plus the extreme weather reaching 36°C to 40°C during the afternoons. WYD is usually slated during the summer season of the host country. Be ready to be exposed under the sun most of the time while walking to the different venues and churches.

  2. Be resilient. Along with the long walks, I can remember whispering and convincing myself to go on many times. Being under the sun for hours, waiting in long lines for food, being lost, riding a fully-packed metro, greeting all the people I meet, struggling with non-English speakers, my mental strength was put to test. Be mentally prepared. Also, aside from knowing English and the local language, learn a bit of Spanish as most pilgrims are either from Spain or Latin Americas.

  3. Be open to the Holy Spirit. A WYD pilgrim must be dependent on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who will give one strength and understanding. Many uncomfortable things can happen in a WYD week, and only those who are filled with the Holy Spirit can fully appreciate the meaning of all that’s happening. After all, it is a pilgrimage not a vacation. Never ever forget that WYD yes is an encounter with other people coming from different backgrounds and the Pope but more importantly it is an encounter with God. Do not ever lose your focus on HIM.

WYD is not for the weak nonetheless not exactly for those who are strong but for those who come prepared to meet Jesus in every opportunity there is.

For the meantime as we prepare for the next one, let us rise up with haste like Mary!

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Praise the. LORD Great Celebration of WYD--The LORD JESUS CHRIST is the SAVIOUR of the Whole World Unity of the Catholic Church Youth celebration is a testimony of the LOVE OF GOD in the hearts of Catholics overcomeing nations barriers. Using technology it can be more global for everyone to participate more richer experience. IAN

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